Xavier Thomas is quietly putting together the best season of his career.
One of the more heralded recruits of the Dabo Swinney era, expectations were high for Thomas when he came to Clemson prior to the 2018 season. He lived up to the hype in a reserve role during a phenomenal freshman campaign, but after transitioning into a starting role as a sophomore, Thomas faced one roadblock after another while trying to maximize his potential.
Through the first five games of his senior season, Thomas seems to have cleared those obstacles and defensive coordinator Brent Venables credits the mindset the pass rusher has displayed since the spring for the results that are being seen on the field.
"Just being accountable and showing up every day," Venables said. "Caring about the team and getting his priorities straight and being the best version of himself."
Heading into his senior season, and with last year's health issues behind him, Thomas showed up for spring practice more determined than ever, and according to Venables, the defensive end has rededicated himself to the game.
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"Things haven't always gone his way," Venables said. "Some of it was self-inflicted and some of it wasn't. But ultimately you still got to make a decision on what your commitments going to be and whether or not you want to buy into the excuses that are out there for all of us. You say, you know say 'I'm gonna bite down and I will find a when will make it happen.'"
After registering 3.5 sacks during his freshman season, Thomas recorded just five sacks over the next two seasons. Through the first five games of the 2021 season, the native of Florence, South Carolina has already racked up 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss and the scary part is, Venables said he has yet to come close to hitting his ceiling.
"Through determination and again, commitment, you know, he's really transformed himself," Venables said. "And he's really had an excellent year so far. And he's still, to be honest with you, he's just scratching the surface on what he can be."
For Thomas, the next step is producing consistently. While Venables is extremely pleased with the results to date, the defensive coordinator wants to see his pass rusher playing at that same level each and every week.
"If it was easy then everybody could do it, and everybody would have a lot of success," Venables said. "Being consistent, you know, being determined and showing up every day with the right mindset. Just trying to be great today. That's what it takes to be great on a Saturday or have a great year or have a great career. You got to pile those days one on top of the other in order to get there. So proud of him for sticking with it."
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